Ivory Tower Writing #24: Getting organised, part 2 – project organisation

One of the biggest problems with academics is that they can never say “no” when a new opportunity for research comes. Then, all of a sudden, there’s seven projects—two journal articles, two book chapters, two op-eds, and one conference paper—due next month.

Hopefully that scenario is fictional. But, in this part, I want to focus on project management, which is less about managing individual drafts and more about planning for the bigger picture. These are some of the processes and methods I follow to manage my workload (which never seems to go away).

Like the previous post, I will be mentioning third-party software (mostly Notion) which I am not getting paid to promote. That being said, you can always find alternatives that work for you.

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To the valiant sailors of the Nanggala 402: fair winds and following seas

The crew of the KRI Nanggala 402, a 44-year-old submarine acquired from West Germany and the prideful older sister of the pack, began the exercise by submerging to the depths. But when the submarine crew missed their routine check-in, they started to worry. The last contact was on Wednesday at 0430 hours.

The Nanggala was old, but reliable, the surface operators hoped. She’ll see it through to the end. She’ll come back with her crew safe and sound. But the Nanggala never checked in again. It couldn’t. Its electrical systems had failed, and it could not establish contact, let alone surface.

What was expected to be a routine naval exercise had turned into a search-and-rescue mission and a race against time. The Nanggala, and her crew, were lost in the waters north of Bali.

The clock was ticking. The Nanggala’s oxygen reserves would only last for 72 hours, meaning they had to be extracted before Friday at 0300 hours. Tardiness, even for a second, would put the crew’s lives in peril.

The search was on. Neighbouring countries pledged help: Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, India, and the United States sent assets to help with the search. Everyone’s eyes were on the time-pressed search for the Nanggala and her crew. International coverage spiked and the Nanggala trended.

As the deadline grew closer, hope dwindled. When the deadline passed, what little hope remained had vanished. The Nanggala was declared sunk at 850 meters below (far beyond its ‘crush depth’) and its crew of fifty-three good sailors began their eternal patrol.

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Ivory Tower Writing #23: Getting organized, part 1 – database and draft organization

While nobody likes to talk about their work process, especially writers, getting organized is perhaps one of the more underrated things that a writer (especially academics) has to do when starting or doing a writing project. For me, that means organizing my literature (books, journals, and even expert commentary), drafts (from rough drafts to pre-prints), and other stuff such as my notes, pictures, or graphs. Every now and then, I would sometimes have to stop writing halfway just to look up a reference. This constant moving back and forth from article to draft and vice-versa is tedious, although in my case, it helps me think better.

Surely, not all of my recommendations here might work for you. Since writing is a personal process, you should spend some time trying to find your own workflow. My advice here is mostly directed towards undergraduates, who often have to juggle different essays for different courses. In this post, I’ll show you how to organize your literature and drafts.

A quick disclaimer: throughout the post, you will see references to third-party software. I don’t get paid to advertise the software you see. I used them, in my personal capacity, and what you’re reading are my honest opinions of the software.

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Book Review: 75 Tahun TNI – Evolusi Ekonomi Pertahanan, Operasi, dan Organisasi Militer Indonesia, 1945-2020

How and why do military organisations change, especially in a post-colonial state?

This is the big question that Evan Laksmana, Iis Gindarsah, and Curie Maharani attempt to answer in their newest publication, 75 Tahun TNI: Evolusi Ekonomi Pertahanan, Operasi, dan Organisasi Militer Indonesia, 1945-2020.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from CSIS Indonesia. It’s a rather hefty publication, topping 300 pages which is chock full of datasets and loads of secondary sources. It would need to be so, as the authors try to prove at least four different hypotheses on military change in Indonesia. The book is written in Bahasa Indonesia, so I will translate many of the direct quotes in the book for the purpose of this review. The authors have hinted at a possible English translation, but that might take some time.

In this review, I look at the main contributions of the book. I first examine where the book stands in terms of existing literature. I then discuss how the book adds to the existing debate, while also addressing some of the book’s few shortcomings.

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Seven months of online teaching: some updates

In the middle of March, my university decided to suspend face-to-face meetings and move everything online. It took me a while to get adjusted to the format and tempo of online classes (I’ve covered this in a previous post), but eventually, I got the hang of Discord, Google Meet, and even Moodle, where I do the bulk of my quizzes.

I really don’t feel like learning is happening. Most of my sessions are synchronous, i.e., students log into Meet and I deliver the day’s materials, often stopping for short bathroom breaks or to address questions. While this is no different from what I do in a live classroom, it just feels… awkward. I am talking to a screen, to a bunch of faces like I’m talking to the cast of the Brady Bunch. As I don’t enforce a “cams on” policy, it feels even more uncanny as I’m practically speaking to a bunch of letters on screen, unsure of whether I’m going too fast or I’ve lost the entire class’s attention. This makes me pause more often as I ask for clarification and to make sure everyone is on tracking. Teaching becomes a slog, not an enjoyable experience both for me and perhaps even more so for the students.  

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The Omnibus Law is an affront to democracy

Update: At the time of writing, the Omnibus Law on Job Creation was still being discussed in Parliament. By the time of publication, the Law has entered into force and approved by President Joko Widodo.

In the last few days, Indonesia has seen protests flaring up in major cities across the archipelago. From Jakarta to Parepare, workers and students have risen against the government, voicing and expressing their discontent with the Omnibus Law on Job Creation (Undang-Undang Cipta Kerja). The protests are on a scale like last year’s protests against a series of Bills, most notably a draft revision to Indonesia’s Criminal Code and the Law on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Their discontent is directed at many aspects of the pro-business omnibus law, such as its potentially detrimental effect on labour protection and environmental protections. The government has mostly dismissed these concerns and criticism as “hoaxes” and insists that the omnibus law would increase employment and attract investment, which is something the country needs to restart its pandemic-stricken economy.

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Jokowi’s UNGA speech: a squandered opportunity for Indonesia’s middle power diplomacy

During Jokowi’s first term, Jusuf Kalla would be the face of Indonesia in the UN General Assembly, where world leaders would meet for a week of intense, 24-hour diplomacy. Unlike the outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi is much more reluctant to make international appearances. He would give the same reason every time: he’d rather focus on solving domestic problems first. In the rare occasion that he would show up in an international forum, he would usually use it as a platform to advance Indonesia’s economic interests.

This time, it’s different. After skipping six UN assemblies, Jokowi finally decided to show up. Unlike previous UN assemblies, the 75th General Assembly allowed the use of pre-recorded messages. Perhaps this was why Jokowi finally wanted to make an appearance at the UN. He could attend the General Assembly without having to leave Indonesia, where he could continue to work on domestic problems. In fact, while the General Assembly continues to convene, Jokowi is busy dealing with food estates in Kalimantan.

Unfortunately, his speech leaves much to be desired.

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Man of Contradictions: understanding the enigma named Jokowi

Ben Bland’s recent book, Man of Contradictions, is touted as the “first English political biography” of Jokowi. There are two biographies of Jokowi in Indonesian, written by Alberthiene Endah. Other “semi-biographies”, such as “Jokoway” by Joko Sulistyo, are questionable at best, as they are written by active government staff. So, I was anticipating Bland’s biography to provide a more impartial picture of Jokowi’s governance.

Front cover of Man of Contradictions. Source: Penguin AU.

In this respect, it delivered. Drawing from his numerous interviews with Jokowi, Ben Bland manages to deliver a relatively impartial assessment of Jokowi’s governance over the years. His central thesis: to understand the enigma that is Jokowi, one must understand his contradictory nature.

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A non-Western view of why Thucydides shouldn’t be put on a pedestal (or a syllabus)

When I was a student back in Intro to IR, I confess I never even touched Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War, or even Machiavelli and Hobbes for that matter. The first so-called realist I was exposed to was Hans Morgenthau, and that was thanks to a translated version of Politics Among Nations (the copy which I never finished and I presume is lost). It was only when I started my MSc that I began to read the Peloponnesian War—mostly from Wikipedia and bits and bits from Donald Kagan’s four-volume work on the Peloponnesian War. Right now, I find Donald Kagan’s version to be much easier to follow than the original Thucydides.

For me, Thucydides was too heavy. Even with the help of maps, indexes, and annotations in Strassler’s Landmark Thucydides, I still found myself lost and not immersed in what Thucydides claimed as a “possession for all time”. Maybe I simply didn’t have the intellectual acuity to follow Thucydides’ magisterial work.

But this did not stop me from trying to assign parts of Thucydides in my syllabi.

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